BOOK BIZ — Differences in confidence decoded and deconstructed

» The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know  By Katty Kay & Claire Shipman   Published by HarperBusiness $27.99 hardback

» The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know
By Katty Kay & Claire Shipman
Published by HarperBusiness
$27.99 hardback

The Confidence Code, at first glance, may seem like a book only relevant to women, thanks to its subtitle. While it is geared towards them, I’d argue that anyone who works with or manages women, or teaches young girls, or has women they care about in their lives, could learn a lot from reading this book. (And I’d guess just about everyone falls into one or several of those categories.)

Written by Katty Kay, the Washington anchor for BBC World News America, and Claire Shipman, ABC News and Good Morning America correspondent, The Confidence Code breaks down the explanations for the differences in confidence shown by women versus men. Looking at sources as diverse as sociology, psychology, biology, and even genetics, the authors try to nail down what creates this disparity, and what can be done about it.

It’s an interesting subject and spans from the playground to the workplace, with real implications. For instance, one study cited in the book, conducted by Carnegie Mellon economics professor Linda Babcock with business school students, found that “men initiate salary negotiations four times as often as women, and that when women do negotiate, they ask for thirty percent less than men do.”

Another study, this one conducted by Hewlett-Packard, found that men applied for promotions when they believed they met sixty percent of the job requirements. Women, on the other hand, only applied when they believed they met one-hundred percent of the job requirements. The gap in confidence between women and men plays out this way again and again throughout the book.

It even starts early, with many young girls in school learning that being “good” means being quiet, not interrupting, not causing trouble, and doing everything perfectly. However, these skills, reinforced over years of good grades and pats on the head, don’t necessarily translate into modern workplace success, where self-promoting behavior and speaking up matter, oftentimes, more than the quality of the work itself.

Indeed, in some of the most surprising findings in the book, study after study showed that confidence contributes more to success than competence does. The ability to let things roll off your back, speak up with your ideas, and use both verbal and nonverbal cues to demonstrate confidence, for instance, all carry substantial weight in most offices. And the catch is that it can’t really be faked. To work effectively, the confidence has to be real.

For more on this phenomenon, and to hear the authors’ solutions, check out this provocative book.

— LouAnn Lofton, mbj@msbusiness.com

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